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"Adam's Curse" by William Butler Yeats, waxes philosophical regarding what they perceive as Adam's curse, which is "work." (A great deal of detail is to be found in eNotes' "Masterpiece II Series.")
Yeats recalls being with two women: one is dear to him (actually "Maud Gonne, a free-spirited Irish patriot and sometime actress"); the other is called his sweetheart's friend in the poem, but it is actually her sister. This particular day takes place toward the end of the summer, and conversation turns to the kinds of work there are in life. The three of them compare their "work" (poetry) to that of the common man:
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
Yeats' sense is that the common laborer is perceived by the masses to do more "real" work that thinkers and poets. He implies that the work of poets appears effortless, and therefore, is not taken so seriously.
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.'
Yeats' sweetheart's friend (sister) responds that the fairer sex (women) have even harder work:
'To be born woman is to know --
Although they do not talk of it at school --
That we must labour to be beautiful.'
Yeats theorizes that since Adam's fall, everything necessitates work, even love. "Once upon a time," love was a chivalrous act that required a great deal of time and effort, but he feels that love is now perceived as idle, just like poetry.
There have been lovers who thought love should be
So much compounded of high courtesy
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
precedents out of beautiful old books;
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.'
Talk of love, Yeats recalls in the poem, brings a silence among them, and they watch the closing of the day, as the sun goes down, and the moon and stars appear.
Finally Yeats speaks of his sweetheart's beauty. He admits that he has tried to love her, not idly, but in the old-fashioned, chivalrous way. However, he must admit that loving each other has exhausted them both, making them both weary of it, just as the moon is weary.
I had a thought for no one's but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we'd grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.
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